(The Hill) — The White House is pulling out various stops in an effort to get gas prices under control at the start of what is expected to be a busy holiday travel season.
The administration is tapping into the strategic petroleum reserve and President Biden has called on the Federal Trade Commission to investigate whether oil companies are responsible for increased prices.
But the focus on gas prices has provided fuel for Republican attacks on Biden’s handling of the economy, and his energy policies in particular, at a time when the White House is hoping to rally support for ambitious climate goals in its roughly $2 trillion spending plan.
AAA predicted this month that 53.4 million people will travel for the Thanksgiving holiday, a 13 percent increase from 2020 when many Americans opted not to travel with coronavirus cases and deaths surging around the country.
The busy travel season to come has put a spotlight on gas prices in particular amid broader concerns about inflation, something the White House has attempted to show it has under control.
“Obviously, the president does not control the price of gasoline — no president does,” Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm told reporters on Tuesday. “But what we’re seeing right now is this global mismatch between supply and demand. Oil production is lagging behind as the rest of the economy roars back to life after the shutdown.”
“So, we, in this administration, are leaving no stone unturned as we examine the market to figure out what’s behind the high prices,” she said.
The White House has shown more urgency in recent weeks in publicly messaging how it is trying to provide relief for Americans grappling with inflation, particularly after the Labor Department released statistics showing consumer prices grew far faster than expected in October and that annual inflation had hit a 30-year high. That rise was in part a result of rising energy costs, and increased costs at the gas pump.
Biden last week wrote to the Federal Trade Commission requesting the agency look into whether oil companies were unfairly spiking prices at the pump.
And on Tuesday, the administration announced it would release 50 million barrels of oil from the nation’s Strategic Petroleum Reserve in coordination with several other countries in an effort to match supply with demand.
Experts have questioned whether either move will do much to meaningfully bring down prices immediately, and they cautioned other factors, like the course of the pandemic, are more likely to affect the trajectory in the months to come.
That has led some conservatives to question whether the White House’s actions on gas prices were more of a political maneuver, as poll after poll has shown voters souring on Biden, particularly over his handling of the economy, with his approval ratings dropping into the low 40s.
“This is being done in order to use every tool at the president’s disposal to lower the price of gas for the American people,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Tuesday when asked if tapping into the strategic reserve was being done for political purposes.
Republicans have gone on offense over inflation for the last few weeks, and the Biden administration’s decision to release oil from the strategic reserve provided more fodder for attacks on its energy policies.
Former President Donald Trump and GOP lawmakers argued the Biden administration’s desire to shift away from fossil fuels and toward clean energy industries has led to problems at the pump.
“Today’s announcement is nothing more than a gesture. If the president and his administration wanted to make a real, long-term impact, they would work to maximize domestic production and expedite energy infrastructure like pipelines—not close federal lands to drilling and add a federal tax to methane,” Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.), ranking member on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, said in a statement.
Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), the top Republican on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, accused Democrats of “waging a war on American energy.
Even Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), who has opposed some climate initiatives in Biden’s Build Back Better agenda, called the release of oil from the reserves an “important policy Band-Aid for rising gas prices” while criticizing the administration’s energy policy as “shortsighted.”
Biden in remarks Tuesday sought to assure the public that the U.S. economy was on the upswing and a rise in prices would not be a long-term concern.
“I also want to briefly address one myth about inflated gas prices: They are not due to environmental measures. My effort to combat climate change is not raising the price of gas or increasing its availability,” Biden said in prepared remarks, arguing investments in electric vehicles, solar panels and other sectors would spur job creation and innovation.
“Let’s beat climate change with more extensive innovation and opportunities,” he added. “We can make our economy and consumers less vulnerable to these sorts of price spikes when we do that.”